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Guitarist Chet Atkins Dies at 77

Tennessee-born guitar virtuoso and “Nashville Sound” architect Chet Atkins died at his home on Sat. June 30 after a long battle with cancer. He was 77.

Atkins took up the guitar at age 9, gigged at some local parties and roadhouses, and a few years later found himself a record executive position at RCA. From there he spawned an entire generation of country and rock musicians, guiding stars like Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond and Don Gibson to immense fame and household-name status.

In 1957, Atkins’ “Oh, Lonesome Me” lit up the country and pop charts, and his “I Can’t Stop Loving You” quickly became an American standard.

Atkins’ playing is rooted securely in the country tradition, but his ventures into the jazz turf include a performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, and two seminal recordings with guitar pioneer Les Paul in the 1970s, Chester & Lester and Guitar Monsters.

But despite his later departures into the jazz realm, he will always be remembered for his lasting contributions to the country scene in Nashville, helping to merge country into the mainstream musical vocabulary.

Originally Published